Maryan's Milk Mustache

Three-year-old Maryan drinks milk . Her mother Habiba (left) enrolled her in Save the Children's milk voucher program when she showed signs of malnutrition.  Photo: Susan Warner. February 2013

Three-year-old Maryan drinks milk. Her mother Habiba (right) enrolled her in Save the Children's milk voucher program when she showed signs of malnutrition. Photo: Susan Warner. February 2013

A Little Girl Recovers from Malnutrition Thanks to an USAID-Funded Milk Voucher Program in Northeastern Kenya

Three-year-old Maryan is wearing a pretty blue headscarf and a milk mustache.

She is drinking one of the 30 cups of milk that Save the Children provides monthly to each of the nearly 11,000 women and children enrolled in its milk voucher program.

Successive droughts in the country have taken their toll on Wajir, in the northeast region of Kenya. As water sources dried up and crops failed, the livestock that the people have always depended on for their livelihoods perished. Milk became increasingly rare and children began to show signs of hunger.

A survey taken in October 2012, found one in four children to be malnourished. To address this, Save the Children launched a nutrition project funded by USAID, which gives the local dairy industry a boost by issuing milk vouchers to those who need it the most. The vouchers, coupled with nutritional supplements, are distributed to malnourished pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under the age of five. The vouchers can be traded for milk at the market, which traders and pastoralists can redeem for money. The cash infusion is slowly rehabilitating the pastoral economy as investments in livestock, fodder and veterinary services increase.

Today Maryan's milk mustache is framed by cheeks that are round and full, but this wasn't always so. When she first enrolled in the program a few months ago she was weaker and thinner than her peers. Her upper arm circumference, one of the measures used to determine nutritional status, had shown her to be moderately undernourished. After three months in the program her weight increased by 10%, an astonishing gain, when one factors in an illness that set her back slightly in February.

"The program has helped my child. She is more playful and happier and even though she is not fat, she is quite strong." says Habiba Osman, Maryan's mother.

Though Maryan remains somewhat slender, "she has shown great progress in terms of her weight gain," says Saadia Ibrahim Musa, the community health worker who first treated Maryan at the local health clinic, where Habiba brought her for a screening in October last year.

Habiba and Maryan see Saadia regularly now, since they walk to the health clinic, where the supplements and vouchers are distributed, twice weekly. There, Habiba also attends nutrition classes with other Wajir mothers. "We discuss the dangers of malnutrition to a child's development, the importance of feeding a child a balanced diet, and the importance of handling food in a hygienic manner," says Saadia.

"Saadia has taught me a lot of things," says Habina, "I now know to take Maryan to the hospital as soon as I notice something is wrong and how important it is not to share Maryan's [nutritional] supplements with anyone else in the household as this makes her recovery more difficult.

The changes are visible throughout the community. "The children are happier and more playful now. The mothers are happy as their children now get the milk they couldn't afford before the project. The traders involved in the project have increased their incomes and their lives are better. Everyone is happy," says Habiba. "And Maryan loves the milk!"

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